The Washington State University Everett campus on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Washington State University Everett campus on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

WSU ends search to buy land for future branch campus in Everett

The university had $10M to spend. It tried for four years but couldn’t close deals with Everett’s housing authority or the city.

OLYMPIA — After four years of searching, Washington State University has come up empty in its attempts to buy land in Everett for a future branch campus.

A top university official expressed disappointment but stressed WSU isn’t leaving town and isn’t vacating University Center, home of its Everett campus.

They will continue looking to add academic offerings and expand its footprint in the city, said Chris Mulick, interim vice president for WSU External Affairs & Government Relations.

“Sometimes deals don’t work out and this is one of them,” he said.

It is a setback in WSU’s pursuit of additional territory on which it can, over time, construct buildings to accommodate anticipated increases in enrollment. One day the center located on Broadway, across the street from Everett Community College, will be at capacity, officials predict.

And it means WSU must return $10 million received from the state for land acquisition. Those dollars aren’t lost, Mulick said. They will go back into an account earmarked for the university’s use with specific authorization by the legislature and governor.

Those dollars arrived in the 2019 state capital budget when WSU had designs on acquiring a chunk of the former Baker Heights complex from the Everett Housing Authority. Under terms of the budget, the university had two years to spend the allocation.

At that time, representatives of the university and housing authority spoke as if they had a deal for WSU to buy as much as 10 acres. They didn’t have it all worked out.

In April 2021, WSU reportedly offered $8.8 million for 6½ acres. An accord couldn’t be reached, and that June, WSU made public it was no longer pursuing the property.

However, the Legislature agreed to give the university two more years to try to buy land with the $10 million.

For months, the university and the city of Everett had been in talks regarding some or all of roughly 13 acres along Cedar Street between Pacific Avenue and 33nd Street. Several parcels near the Everett Station and Scuttlebutt Brewery were involved, including ones housing city public works and utilities offices.

After appraisals were done, it became clear $10 million wouldn’t be enough. Eventually, what the university could afford amounted to about 3½ acres and included city-owned properties with occupied buildings that would require ongoing maintenance.

With 13 acres, you could build an urban campus, Mulick said. At 3½ acres, not so much.

“At the end of the day, it didn’t add up,” he said. “(The city) was our partner going in and they are our partner going out even if ultimately it didn’t work out, which it didn’t. “

Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said: “It’s a disappointment for us because we want WSU to own property in Everett. We want them to be part of our community forever.

“I encouraged them to reconsider and invest in Everett as soon as possible,” she said. “I don’t think land is going to get less expensive.”

The university is not abandoning the idea of acquiring land for an urban campus, Mulick said. They’ve stopped looking for now and are not asking lawmakers to give them another two years to spend the money.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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